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'BJP campaign in Tripura was amazing'

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: March 03, 2018 17:42 IST
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'The BJP capitalised on the Left Front's failure and inaction and the Congress' deliberate retreat in Tripura.'

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi at an election rally in Sonamura, Tripura. Photograph: PTI Photo
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi at an election rally in Sonamura, Tripura. Photograph: PTI Photo

Dr R K Satapathy is an astute observer of politics in India's north east.

Dr Satapathy -- who has taught politics for 33 years in Mizoram and NEHU, Shillong -- has been involved in several electoral studies in the north eastern states. He led research scholars conducting the People's Pulse pre-poll survey in the Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura organised by the Hyderabad-based research organisation.

"It was as if the Congress was not very keen in fighting these battles," he tells's Archana Masih in a telephone interview.


You led a team that conducted an pre-poll survey. What is your post poll assessment?

In the survey for People's Pulse and Lokniti, we said Meghalaya would have a hung assembly because no political party will get a clear majority.

Tripura surprised us with the margin. We revealed that the BJP would form the government, but didn't know it would cross 40 seats.

In Tripura, age also plays a role. Most CPI-M leaders in Tripura are above 70.

The youth look to inspiring young leaders who can provide dynamic leadership.

There was Left complacency. After serving for so many years they perhaps took voters for granted.

In Nagaland things are still very fluid. You don't know what will be the consequence in the post election scenario.

Who will be the partners and who will form the government is difficult to predict in Nagaland.

Could the BJP form a government in Meghalaya despite the Congress having more numbers -- the way it did in Goa and Manipur last year?

The Congress-NPP (National People's Party) are neck and neck in Meghalaya.

In the post-poll situation, many regional parties may not go with the Congress because of its long rule in the state.

The only inhibition against the BJP is religion because it is perceived as a Hindu right wing party. It also depends on the BJP strategy in Meghalaya.

The BJP concentrated on campaigning in the Garo Hills more than any other region. The NPP is strong in the Garo Hills. The CM (Mukul Sangma) is also from the Garo Hills. Their (the BJP's) focus is more on the Garo Hills.

There, the NPP won more seats than the Congress, but in Khasi and the Jaitia Hills, the BJP does not have much presence.

In a few pockets in Khasi and Jaitia Hills, the NPP is trying to makes its presence felt.

If you club all this together, it gives strength to the NPP.

Again, the post-poll election (in Meghalaya) is fluid, but most likely the BJP will try to cobble together all the non Congress parties and attempt to form the government.

In Manipur and Goa, the BJP formed the government because of its aggressive, pro-active, strategy.

So its perceived Hindu image will not be a hindrance in forming a government in these Christian-dominated states?

That was the pre-election image. Post election, we don't know.

What reasons do you see for the BJP Spring in the north east and the Congress' decline? The Congress did not win a single seat in Nagaland and Tripura.

This is the structural problem of the Congress party.

Hardly any prominent Congress leaders campaigned in Tripura except Rahul Gandhi on the last day of the campaign.

In Meghalaya, Shashi Tharoor and a few other leadres had come, but it was a haphazard campaign.

It was as if the Congress was not very keen in fighting these battles.

The BJP gave special attention to this region though it knew that Nagaland and Meghalaya are Christian-dominated states. Still, it tried its best.

If not on its own, it tried with its partners to get a foothold here.

It was amazing the way BJP campaigned in Tripura. All their top leaders were here.

The BJP's aggressive campaign, the Congress's half-hearted campaign, and the CPI-M's anti- incumbency (are responsible for the outcome in Tripura).

The Congress vote share in Meghalaya and Tripura have gone down. The Congress is virtually a non entity in Nagaland.

In Nagaland, the NPF (Naga People's Front) and the NDPP (the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party) are breakaway organisations.

Both regional parties are uncomfortable enemies. Post election, we will have to see how they deal with each other.

What are the main reasons for the BJP victory in Tripura?

Hemanta Biswa Sarma's long stay in Tripura.

The first time, a direct contest between the Left and Right in Tripura.

The ideological battle between Left and Right. A big symbolic battle.

Tripura was the last Left bastion. To unseat a cadre-based party with such a long presence of nerly 30 years is not an easy job.

People lost faith in them (the Marxists).

I have visited the length and breadth of Tripura -- the pitiable condition of the roads; people don't have drinking water, electricity. This created some sort of anger.

People want employment, a good life. The Left failed them on these counts.

The BJP capitalised on the Left Front's failure and inaction and the Congress' deliberate retreat in Tripura.

These two factors helped the BJP emerge as the victor.

What made people vote for the BJP?

I visited all the party offices. In Tripura all the Left members were sitting with sunken faces.

When we interviewed their senior leaders they did not seem very confident. They were on the backfoot.

The Congress did not seem to have any strategy in place. They said the Left and BJP are our enemies, but I feel the Congress leaders must internally be happy that the Left has lost because in 25 years they could not unseat the CPI-M.

They (the BJP and Congress) may be enemies at the national level, but the Congress' state leaders must be happy.

The Left cadres are also in confusion. They are told (by the CPI-M's central leadership) to go soft on the Congress in Tripura. The Congress was the main Opposition for the CPI-M in Tripura.

There was a lot of discontent among Congress leaders. All these worked in the BJP's favour.

The BJP has won Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura and hopes to form governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya. What does this mean for the north east?

It is a morale booster for the BJP. These are small states. The BJP is going to face tough challenges in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Odisha, but these wins in smaller states will boost morale.

What outcome will these results have on national politics?

These small states will get better attention from national policy makers. The north east will be better understood by central leaders.

Thanks to the BJP's initiative, it has brought this marginalised region centre stage.

Other political parties were forced to respond to the BJP's aggressive campaign in these smallers states.

As a result, the whole region got better focus at the national level.

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Archana Masih /